A roundtable discussion took place at the European Parliament to highlight the potential health risks of mineral wool, or Man-made Vitreous Fibres (MMVF) as it is also known. Mineral wool is a type of thermal insulation made from rocks and minerals. After asbestos was banned in most countries in the 1990s mineral wool effectively emerged as the replacement material. Concerns persist about the use of mineral wool for building insulation. Campaigners want the health threats posed by the material to be high on the agenda of the new intake of MEPs who have now taken their seats in the European Parliament after May’s elections. The main purpose of the meeting was to draw the attention of members of the incoming Environment and Health Committee to the issue.
One ongoing problem is that there is little public awareness about the possible health risks of mineral wool, for both workers in the construction industry and also the general public who might be installing, removing or disposing of the insulation product. MEPs on relevant parliamentary committees are now being targeted when the parliament resumes after the European elections. The aim is to raise awareness about the issue and press for action.
Speaking just after the event in the European Parliament, panellist, Aurel Laurenţiu Plosceanu from the European Economic and Social Committee and the Rapporteur on ‘Working with Hazardous Substances’ said: “More needs to be done to make more people aware of the potential dangers of mineral wool. There is a real risk associated with this material and, like asbestos, people need to be made aware of the possible risks.”
Mr Plosceanu called for a range of measures, including an awareness raising campaign, better labelling, more investment in research and safer equipment for people in the construction industry who work with the material. He said: “The particular problem with this material is that any health problems may not actually appear in someone until long after their exposure to it. With something like lung cancer, which, as with asbestos, is a possible health risk associated with this, unfortunately that could be too late. By that stage, treatment may be ineffective.”
He told the meeting: “Problems can possibly start if the material is touched or the fibres get into the air and are inhaled. The risks apply to both workers in the building trade and also inhabitants and office workers who may also be exposed to it.”
Mr Plosceanu, president of the Romanian Construction Entrepreneurs Association since 2007, said, “That is why we need action now. We need improved equipment for construction workers and better labelling so that the possible dangers are made clear to both workers and inhabitants.”
Mr Plosceanu praised Poland for its action on asbestos. The Polish authorities have implemented a specific programme and invested sufficient funding in order to address the issue and Mr Plosceanu asserted that this strategy could be an excellent model for Europe in tackling the problems caused by both asbestos and mineral wool.
Gary Cartwright, the Editor of EU Today and the author of a major report on mineral wool, also addressed the roundtable discussion. He said: “People are often unaware of the dangers and that is one reason why MEPs on the newly formed relevant committees need to do more to bring it all to the attention of the public and the EU institutions.”
Mr Cartwright explained that mineral wool had previously been classified as carcinogenic but that later testing was conducted on the material without its important ‘binder’ ingredient, meaning that the product was not tested as it is sold and that the test results that led to it being later downgraded and incorrectly losing its carcinogenic status. Mr Cartwright is in favour of the product being re-tested, this time with the ‘binder’ ingredient included, to make tests properly reflective of mineral wool as it is sold to the construction industry and consumers.
He also spoke of the “harrowing” videos he had seen of those suffering from pulmonary fibrosis, describing how victims were unable to stand or walk and that they could barely speak. He reminded panellists that this condition seemed in some ways “worse than cancer, as it’s incurable and you have it for life”.
Mr Cartwright ended his presentation by urging: “It took 100 years before legislation was passed to help protect us from asbestos. Let us hope it does not take as long to deal with mineral wool.”